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A judge has rejected a challenge to Florida's trans athlete law

FILE A handful of protestors took to the streets of downtown Bradenton Tuesday evening to condemn Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest bill signing, calling it a methodical attack on transgender rights.
Ryan Callihan
The Miami Herald
FILE - A handful of protestors in downtown Bradenton protest in 2021 against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bill barring transgender athletes from women’s and girls’ scholastic sports.

A federal judge has rejected a challenge to a 2021 Florida law banning transgender female students from playing on women’s and girls’ sports teams.

U.S. District Judge Roy Altman on Monday issued a 39-page decision granting a request by attorneys for Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and the State Board of Education to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender high-school volleyball player.

Altman ruled that the controversial law did not violate constitutional equal-protection and due-process rights and Title IX, a federal law that prevents discrimination based on sex in education programs. He left open the possibility that attorneys for the Broward County student, identified by the initials D.N., could file a revised lawsuit on the equal-protection and Title IX issues.

Attorneys for the state argued that the law was aimed at helping ensure athletic opportunities for girls and women who want to play interscholastic or college sports. They contended the opportunities could be threatened by the participation of transgender females, who were identified as biological males at birth.

Altman said he found that “promoting women’s equality in athletics is an important governmental interest” and disputed that the law (SB 1028) discriminated based on stereotypes.

“In our case, SB 1028’s gender-based classifications are rooted in real differences between the sexes — not stereotypes. In requiring schools to designate sports-team memberships on the basis of biological sex, the statute adopts the uncontroversial proposition that most men and women do have different (and innate) physical attributes. Ignoring those real differences would disserve the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause, which is to safeguard the principle that ‘all persons similarly situated should be treated alike,’” he wrote, partially quoting legal precedents.

Altman also wrote that the law does not come “anywhere close to creating the sort of caste-like system the Constitution forbids — a system in which transgender girls are legally demeaned and degraded because of their gender identity.”

“Most importantly, like laws prohibiting the blind from flying airplanes or the HIV-infected from donating blood, SB 1028 is tailored to an important and well-established governmental interest — the promotion of gender equality through the preservation of athletic opportunities for girls,” the decision said.

“In this respect, it’s not at all like the kinds of laws the Equal Protection Clause unambiguously disallows — laws that, for instance, prohibited black Americans from eating at the same restaurants, drinking from the same water fountains, attending the same schools, and swimming in the same beaches as white Americans. Those laws — untethered from any legitimate governmental interest — degraded blacks (because of their race) across broad swathes of American social life.”

Attorneys for the transgender girl filed the lawsuit in June 2021, after the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved the ban. The case was put on hold while the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a separate case that challenged a St. Johns County School Board policy preventing a transgender male student, Drew Adams, from using boys’ bathrooms.

The Atlanta-based appeals court in December upheld the St. Johns County policy, spurring Altman in January to reopen the transgender-athlete case.

In a March filing, attorneys for the Broward County volleyball player described the law as part of a “larger national effort to scapegoat this protected group.”

“The statute must be viewed against the backdrop of the avalanche of antitransgender, and anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country and also in the context of ever increasing legislative hostility in Florida towards LGBTQ individuals,” the attorneys argued.

But in its motion to dismiss the case, filed in February, the state disputed that the law was intended to discriminate or that it violates constitutional rights.

“SB 1028 indeed draws a sex-based classification, but the classification is constitutionally permissible because the state has important governmental interests in separating athletic teams on the basis of sex, and in prohibiting biological males from joining teams designated for biological females: protecting biological females’ equal participation in school athletics and remediating past under-representation of females in athletic competition,” the motion said. “Because the challenged law is substantially related to achieving these important aims, it does not violate equal protection.”

Copyright 2023 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

The News Service of Florida
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